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Article #38, August 2000
By Bill Cook

     Timber management is vital to the health and vigor of society.  A simple statement, but one that raises objections from many quarters.  To many, the notion of managing a forest to produce timber and to generate revenue has migrated into the zone of politically incorrect behavior. 

     This is not only a dangerous road to travel, but also one filled with irony.

     First off, timber is a renewable resource.  Nearly all fourth graders learn about recycling, reusing, and reducing consumption of natural resources.  Wood is about the only natural resource that is also renewable.  This is a big plus.

     Wood is also the cheapest and most environmentally friendly raw material to extract and process.  Anything that can be made out of wood, ought to be made out of wood.  Any substitute has significantly greater environmental costs. 

     So, what’s with all the “save a tree” promotions? 

     Timber management has an obligatory harvest component.  Timber harvesting is commonly equated to forest destruction.  There is little evidence that this is true.  Changes, yes.  Destruction, no.  Not a single species in North America is known to have gone extinct due to logging for timber production.  Even after the huge logging boom a hundred years ago. 

     There is no evidence that I am aware of that shows timber harvesting, done through a management plan, fouls any major ecological process.  But science can’t yet make this claim with complete assurance.  We do know that the importance of forest disturbance has been underestimated.  Timber management is adapting to new information.

     Contrary to some popular beliefs, properly prescribed timber harvesting is designed to complement ecological processes.  Additionally, timber harvest will actually enhance the reproduction and health of not only trees, but a wide variety of understory species and wildlife. 

     Why, then, has timber harvesting been getting such a bad name?

     A couple of reasons stand out to me.  First, timber harvest necessarily and temporarily changes the look of the forest.  There is a visual objection.  Many folks value the “look” of the forest more than it’s service to society or it’s role in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. 

     Second, timber harvest has become the whipping-boy for many perceived and actual environmental problems.  Logging has been blamed for everything from poor water quality to species extinction to global warming.  Balderdash.  There are numerous other human activities that have far greater impact, yet we don’t hear much about them.

     Third, timber harvesting has been connected with the idea of greedy corporations gobbling up the landscape for profit.  Not here.  Ironically it’s the larger companies that are leading the way in sustainable forest management and the protection of all  natural resource values.  As far as greed is concerned, these industries are only producing what we are buying.  Pointing fingers can be an embarrassing business.

     In June, U.S. News and World Report cited the death of paperback novelist Barbara Cartland.  She was buried in a cardboard casket to avoid “killing a tree.”  Not only is cardboard made from trees, but so were all the copies of her 723 published books!  Can people really be this misinformed?


     As I was riding the “El” into downtown Chicago a year ago, I watched the natives on their regular commute.  It was painfully clear to see how the challenges of life left zero time to consider such trivial matters as where all their “stuff” comes from.  In that environment, it’s easy to develop twisted notions about natural resources.

     Those of us with forest land have a great opportunity to practice good timber management.  It’s not only very satisfying to be doing something good, but it also generates revenue and goes a long way to secure wishes for wildlife habitat improvement and protection of natural resource values.  These are all good things.

     After a couple decades of struggling with these issues, Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, gave a lecture making the observation that; “I believe that trees are the answer to many questions about our future on this earth.“

     Our forefathers recognized the value in a perpetual supply of timber.  Over the last century, we have not only learned how to do that, but to do it in harmony with nature.  Have too many of us forgotten these values?  Manage your forest.  Talk to some foresters.  Only good things can come from it. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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